Cardinals Need Major Shakeup, Not Minor Moves

The St. Louis Cardinals made a number of small moves on Monday to shake up a roster that has underperformed in the month of June. The Cardinals designated under-utilized John Nogowski for assignment. Right-handed pitchers Seth Elledge and Jake Woodford were optioned to Triple-A.  Brandon Waddell and Roel Ramirez join a struggling bullpen. The changes are minor in nature, but something major must occur for the Cardinals to turn the season around.

The Cardinals are arguably in the most critical part of their season. On Monday, the team starts game 14 of a 20-game stretch of facing teams under .500. After starting it off with a somewhat encouraging three-game sweep of the lowly Miami Marlins, the Cardinals have been an abysmal 2-8. They’ve managed to score more than two runs in a game only four times during this light schedule, en route to a run differential of -21.

Call them reasons, call them excuses, but the Cardinals have faced some significant injury adversity. The rotation is decimated. The lineup has had various players drop in and out. None of that matters. The Cardinals must start winning now, or it will be a lost season. If the team can’t flip the script and begin dominating losing clubs, then there is little reason to bring reinforcements in.

Decisions Must Be Made

Assuming the Cardinals continue their losing ways, the top priority must be ensuring that Nolan Arenado does not opt-out of his contract at the end of the year. It’s safe to say that Arenado didn’t come to St. Louis so he could take part in multiple losing campaigns. The team needs to add pieces for next year sooner rather than later. Using the trade deadline to secure future talent isn’t easy but should probably be the approach. Waiting until the off-season might be too late to prove to the star that the ownership is committed to winning in 2022.

Max Scherzer is the most intriguing option. He’s been long coveted by his hometown team. He also is insisting on an extension as part of any trade. A swap and sign for an effective, albeit aging, rotation piece makes a lot of sense, but the cost will be high—if the Washington Nationals even decide to move him. Matthew Boyd is out with an injury and should return after the All-Star Break. The Detroit Tigers won’t be buyers, and the Cardinals would have an additional year of team control. The competition for either pitcher’s services is likely to be high with several legitimate buyers eager to add to their rotations.

Approach and Preparation

Conversely, the team should be patient with the players they have on offense. Assuming none of them are shipped in a trade for pitching, spending prospects for a bat right now is difficult to justify. The lineup has a lot of quality pieces. The right answer is to make significant changes to processes and staff. Jeff Albert is clearly under a microscope right now. Without a significant uptick in production, it’s hard to imagine the team not making a change there or around him. When John Mabry was relieved of his responsibilities as hitting coach in 2018, the team was averaging 4.4 runs per game with an OPS of .714 for the year. So far in 2021, they’ve mustered 3.9 runs per game with an OPS of .671.

Additionally, the class of upcoming free agents has plenty of bats available, many of which could fit into the Cardinals lineup. Javier Baez, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, and Trevor Story would be options to upgrade the shortstop position if the team decides Paul DeJong isn’t the answer. Despite past remarks, Cardinals fans would likely embrace Kris Bryant joining the outfield, assuming he wouldn’t find it too boring. Michael Conforto will be available as well. None of those are particularly likely signings, but they won’t cost prospects or years of control—only money. The team has significant money coming off the books. And there are plenty of other lesser options to choose from as well.

No Moves For the Cardinals Would Be No Surprise

All of that assumes the Cardinals won’t turn things around. It’s possible that churning the roster is enough. Teams go through difficult stretches, but this is the worst performance by the Cardinals in a single month since the 1970’s. It’s difficult to imagine a self-correction significant enough to lead to a playoff spot. However, a team eight games below .500 rarely makes acquisitions at the deadline. The only argument for holding steady is a fear of trading away the next Sandy Alcantara or Randy Arozarena. That’s an unpleasant thought, but it would be worse to see Arenado walk away after only one season is St. Louis.

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Players Mentioned:

Sandy Alcantara, Nolan Arenado, Randy Arozarena,  Max Scherzer,  Seth Elledge, Matthew Boyd, Brandon Waddell, Roel Ramirez, Jake Woodford, Kris Bryant, Michael Conforto, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Javier Baez, Paul DeJong

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